Merly Trappenberg gallery in Sambil
To play the Landsloterij-lottery in Curaçao, you have to buy your brièchi (ticket). The brièchi-sellers, often older women, are always waiting for clients outside of supermarkets, banks or shopping centers. It’s such a common sight that we never think twice about it.
Visual artist Merly Trappenberg observes exactly these habits that are so ingrained in our routine that we don’t see them as special anymore. She understands that these ‘insignificant’ daily customs show you the core of a country’s culture.
She painted ‘The lottery seller’, a woman with soft, amiable features sitting in the shade, holding out her tickets to attract customers. Merly hit the target because we can immediately identify with the scene. Note how the woman holds her big bag tightly under her arm and how her skirt reveals her knees. The rollers in her hair peep out under the headscarf and she softly waves the tickets to get the buyers attention. The familiarity of the scene is hidden in these small details and the artist uses it to connect with the viewer.
Curaçao is her source of inspiration and especially the life, traditions and customs of the Afro-Curaçao community are depicted in her paintings. She paints the ordinary occurences and daily activities that typically shape life on a Caribbean Island.
In her work she consciously elevates these simple situations to point out the pride and self esteem of the people she portrays. Women are her principal subject matter and she gives them green or blue eyes to indicate the cultural and racial mix on the island.
In the stunning piece ‘Proud of my Culture’, she shows a woman wearing a folkloristic dress and a splendidly wrapped headscarf. The striking white collar contrasts sharply with her dark skin and the intense blues of the bodice and skirt.
The dress is elegantly displayed, like a beautiful robe or gown, revealing a very subtle cleavage. Her downward gaze, sensual mouth and restrained arm gesture indicate a trance like state. This is enhanced by the delicate colors in the background, surrounding her like an aura. Her face is turned toward the light, leaving part of the face, neck and shoulder in the shadow, enhancing the drama of the moment.
‘Proud of my Culture’ is made in 2018 and a good example of her style. When starting a new painting she follows a specific procedure. After deciding on the subject she sets out on a thorough investigation. For this piece, about a cultural custom, she researches the tradition, setting, vesture and smallest detail before starting on the painting.
Merly expertly applies a special technique known as sfumato, where tones and colors gradually merge into one another, producing softened outlines or hazy forms. This technique is also responsible for the soft glow in her paintings causing the viewer to fall madly in love with her work.
Merly was born in Venezuela but already as a young child regularly visited Curaçao. Although her heart is set on music and arts, she abides to her parents’ wishes and becomes a civil engineer. When she, as a young woman, relocates to Curaçao she seizes the opportunity to enter the Akademia di Arte and pursue her true calling to become a visual artist.
As is apparent in the exhibition Merly works in two different techniques which she originally would combine with the subject matter. In the past she would paint portraits and city views in bright, warm colors on canvas. For her nudes she would turn to earth tones and use a course-like surface. Over the past years she released this rigid division and started combining technique and subject matter, entering a new phase in her artistic career.
Merly Trappenberg has her own unique style which makes her stand out in the local art scene. She has deep respect and admiration for the heritage of the Afro Curaçao community and passionately voices this in her paintings. By granting her the possibility the showcase her work in their mall, Sambil acknowledges her immense talent and significance.
2018: Text and Pictures by Josée Thissen-Rojer.